Is your congregation struggling with how to do Membership classes and signing of the book ceremonies in the time of COVID? The UU Congregation of Loudoun has shared with us their experience and adaptations. This post was written by their minister, Rev. Alice King.
During these pandemic times, our congregation’s Membership Committee was looking for a way to receive and welcome new members. I know—it seems impossible that being online would lead to new members but our attendance has increased significantly and several were interested.
Here is how we have adapted for online.
After the breakout rooms each week, many folks come back to the main room to say goodbye and to just have more conversation.
On the first Sunday of each month, we offer a Get Acquainted Session with the Membership Chair and the Minister. We each introduce ourselves and say what brought us to our church. This is a great time to ask “what are you hoping to find here” or “what are you seeking?” So it’s both a getting to know each other session and a chance for newcomers to ask questions about our church and about the Unitarian Universalist Faith.
In October, we offered a Membership Weekend. Two weeks prior we emailed each newcomer a packet of materials—a mixture of short readings and videos as the “orientation” part of the Membership class. Each person was to do these on their own. We used what Rev. Matthew Johnson compiled with some videos that we made—one from the minister with a short tour of the building (some folks had never even been in the building!), one from the church president and one from the Stewardship Chair. The total viewing time was just over two hours…with longer for the readings. (We plan to send these out sooner next time—a month in advance.)
12-2 pm, Saturday--we gathered online to hear personal/spiritual journey stories from each person (assigning a time limit) and then spent the rest of the time answering any questions.
3:30-4 pm Saturday—Those ready to commit to membership by signing the book were invited to come to the church with instructions for distancing and masks and using their own pens to sign the book.
The doors to the church were open…and the table was set up on the deck near the front door. The new members came up, signed the book, received a welcome blessing from the minister, and were able to walk through our small chapel and have some time inside. They went down to the front and selected their membership certificate from the table and choose a small bouquet of flowers. They then went out the side door where they were welcomed with cheers and applause and shouts of welcome from members who had gathered for them—also distanced and masked.
Each member also received a heart-shaped pumpkin spice cake in a box with a beautiful bow. Because our Membership Chair is awesome like that. The pumpkin was grown in her garden. She brought lovely fall tablecloths for the signing table outside, the table inside and for the cake(s) table. The day itself was one of those gorgeous, sunny, blue-sky fall days.
Ahead of time, we had arranged for someone to video the signing and some of the other things and some of those in attendance took phones pics and sent them for use in the service the next day.
It was meaningful to all who were there…new members and current members alike.
Sunday Service—We took the pictures and the film from the time at the church building and made slides with the new members pictures and their names and also made a short film for use in service on Sunday. We also prepared slides with our New Member Ceremony and as part of introducing the new members, we inserted a slide with their picture and their name on the slide. For the congregation’s part, we had the president read it aloud and asked members to read along at home while remaining muted. Watch a short video on New Member Book Signing (YouTube).
We use the Time For All Ages to offer the Membership Ceremony so that the entire congregation is present. The order this year was that I gave a little background since it was the first time we were online for the New Member Ceremony. Then I showed the short video, then the Ceremony with the slides of the new members incorporated at the appropriate place. At the end, I asked everyone to unmute themselves and cheer! It worked.
We are continuing with the Get Acquainted Sessions on the first Sunday of each month, and we are now using the Inquirers Series from the Faith Forward materials (out of First UU Dallas)—it is a nine-week program, one hour each Sunday from 12-1 pm that explores different areas of congregational life. It covers a Q & A with the minister; a Principles, Sources and History session; Buildings and Grounds; Caring and Pastoral Care; Religious Exploration/Faith Formation; Small Group Ministry; and the final one is about Membership itself. Then we will offer another Membership Weekend in April with the same packet that we email out ahead of time. And we’ll pray for a beautiful and warm Spring day!